TRY before you buy

The media is great at showing us interesting people we will never meet, fascinating places we might never visit, or surprising experiences we would never imagine doing. You watch a documentary on scuba diving, you like the look of it, and a few years later you have your own diving school. Or a magazine article you read about ketogenic diets, which you’ve never heard of, so you give it a try and before you know it you’ve lost seven kilos and have never felt better. Or that YouTube channel on car maintenance that happens to catch your eye one day, one thing leads to another and next minute you’ve got yourself a new and engrossing hobby, servicing your own vehicle and saving a ton of money at the same time.

Yet, it doesn’t always work out that way, and care must be taken before you start ordering expensive equipment, jetting off across the globe, or changing your name to Bhuvanesh. The media is also great at presenting things in an attractive way, and we all know how easy experts make things look. A 30-minute TV programme or a four-page article doesn’t show you the failures and frustrations, the early-morning rises, or the many hours that went into acquiring and perfecting that expertise.

I’m sure we can all think of examples of this. Off the top of my head I can summon several concerning people I know well: turning a garage into a martial arts gym after watching a series on muay thai and then discovering a few classes in that you loathe it; signing up to an online hedge witchery course on the back of an engrossing TV interview and then never getting past the first class; spending thousands on a BMW motorbike, matching BMW helmets, and even an official (overpriced) BMW key fob only to find out that riding bikes is uncomfortable and selling the lot at a massive loss. All real cases I know of.

I have had my fair share of these experiences, and a few lucky escapes. One of them was mushroom hunting (the season is underway, as you can read about on pages 48 and 49). Going into the woods armed with a stick and a basket foraging for wild mushrooms is big in Catalonia, and every year (as we do this month) articles and programmes on the pastime appear all over the local media. Mushroom hunting has plenty going for it: outdoors, fresh air and exercise, plenty of fascinating knowledge and learning to be had, a sense of satisfaction when you make a find, a catch to proudly bring home and share with the family, picnics, pleasant social interaction… the list goes on.

I too was seduced by the glossy magazine articles and highly-produced TV reports and became convinced that foraging for wild mushrooms was up my alley. Fortunately, my neighbour is big into hunting mushrooms and every year returns from excursions with his baskets bursting. It’s not unusual to see him sitting at a table in his garage with a couple of friends, chatting and sipping rough red wine, while they sort, clean and share out their catch. I want in, I thought, and he agreed to take me along next time he went foraging.

A lack of space means I have to leave out the grisly details of that day, but let me just say I returned home bedraggled and soaked to the skin, covered in scratches, tired and hungry (although not in a good way), with my back aching and my head spinning, as after hours of patient instruction I was still incapable of telling any two mushrooms apart, which is vital if you don’t want to end up in hospital. What’s more, my hours of foraging had produced three unimpressive rovellons, two of which I later saw had worms in them.

My neighbour generously offered to take me with him the following week but, as graciously as I could, I declined. The lesson I learnt was not that mushroom hunting is not all it’s cracked up to be, but to try before you buy.

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